Are sunflower seeds good for you?


Sunflower seeds are popular health foods that people commonly consume in trail mix, breakfast cereals, or straight from the bag as a snack. They contain beneficial nutrients, including healthy fats, minerals, and antioxidant compounds.

Sunflower seeds have a tough outer shell with a striped appearance. As the shell is difficult for humans to digest, they usually eat the hulled seeds. People can also grow sprouts from the sunflower seed kernels, which can increase the seeds’ nutritional benefits.

A 1-ounce (oz) portion of hulled sunflower seeds provides the following nutrients:

According to a 2017 review, sunflower seeds have the following nutritional value:

  • sulfur-rich proteins valuable for many biological processes, including muscular and skeletal development
  • amino acids including glutamine, arginine, and cysteine
  • 55–70% linoleic acid and 20–25% oleic acid
  • higher amounts of vitamin E than linseed, sesame seed, and peanuts
  • antioxidants including flavonoids and phenolic acids
  • high concentrations of niacin, and vitamins A, B, and C
  • rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium

The common sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is a species of the Asteraceae family. The plant seeds are edible, and manufacturers use them for foods and producing sunflower oil. As such, sunflower oil ranks as the fourth most produced oil in the world.

As well as providing human food sources, farmers use sunflower seeds for livestock food. The germination of the seeds also has essential secondary roles in ecology and the lifecycle of organisms.

Including sunflower seeds in the diet can offer health benefits. The following sections discuss these potential benefits in more detail.

Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial

Research suggests sunflower seeds are:

The beneficial effects are due to compounds such as phenols, tannins, and saponins.

However, many of the studies involve animals or laboratory research, so scientists need to conduct more studies to draw firm conclusions about the effects on humans.

Cardioprotective and anti-tumor effects

Sunflower seeds are a rich source of carotenoids and tocopherols that act as antioxidants, which help prevent damage from free radicals.

A 2020 review indicated that sunflower seeds and oil might be beneficial for:

People can not synthesize tocopherol or vitamin E in the body and need to obtain it through their diet. Therefore, including sunflower seeds in the diet is a suitable way to increase a person’s vitamin E.

Antidiabetic and cholesterol-lowering effects

Studies indicate that sunflower seeds may be effective against diabetes and high cholesterol.

People with diabetes can produce advanced glycation end products that can cause damage to the body. Sunflower seeds contain compounds that can inhibit these substances.

Cynarin in sunflower seeds can lower triglycerides and cholesterol, an effect that may potentially benefit people with hyperglycemia or hyperlipidemia.

A small pilot study of 50 adults with obesity found that sunflower seed extract reduced blood cholesterol and benefited body weight and fat mass.

However, as participants took a concentrated extract, this may not yield the same effects as consuming sunflower seeds. Additionally, researchers instructed participants to consume 500 fewer calories than their usual diet, which would also result in weight loss.

Healthy skin and bones

Sunflower seeds contain omega-6 fatty acids, which people require for healthy skin.

Research indicates that essential fatty acid deficiency significantly affects skin function and appearance. With this in mind, including sources of essential fatty acids in the diet may help prevent skin conditions, such as dermatitis, and reduce the effects of aging on the skin.

Sunflower seeds also contain zinc, an essential mineral for skin health, and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous for healthy bones.

While sunflower seeds are a healthy food, there are some risks that people should consider.

Allergy

Research suggests people can have a strong hypersensitivity to sunflower seeds. Individuals can be allergic to sunflower seed pollen when farmers are harvesting, or they can be sensitive to bird feed containing sunflower seeds.

Some people may need to avoid eating sunflower seeds due to possible allergic reactions. However, those who are sensitive to the seeds may be able to consume sunflower oil.

Bacteria

Occasionally, sunflower seeds may contain harmful bacteria that may multiply when a person grows them or buys sprouted seeds from a grocery store.

Sprouted seeds have been responsible for outbreaks of salmonella, which causes symptoms of food poisoning.

High calorie

Eating sunflower seeds in moderation as part of a healthy diet can have multiple benefits. However, with 165 calories per ounce, they are a higher calorie food. If a person aims to maintain a moderate weight, they may wish to limit their sunflower seed portions and include them as part of their daily calories.

People can eat sunflower seeds raw or dry roast them in the oven or on the stovetop.

Studies suggest that sprouting sunflower seeds increases free amino acids and polyphenols while decreasing anti-nutrients, which affect seed digestion. People can grow the seeds in a glass jar or use a specialized seed sprouter. There are many online resources about the correct way to sprout seeds.

People can try the following tips to include sunflower seeds in their diet:

  • eating raw seeds as a portable and easy snack
  • including the seeds as part of a trail mix
  • sprinkling roasted or raw seeds on top of cereals, cooked vegetables, or salads
  • adding seeds when baking bread or muffins
  • making sunflower seed butter using a high-speed blender

Sunflower seeds are a healthy addition to the diet, providing essential nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. They are a suitable source of fiber and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

As a good source of minerals, sunflower seeds may support healthy bones and skin. However, some people may be allergic or sensitive to sunflower seeds and their pollen.

Individuals can try eating sunflower seeds raw, roasting them, or sprouting them.



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